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Sunday, 22 October 2017 18:34

Van Andel Institute researchers awarded $5.5 million in grants to test cancer drugs

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Peter Jones Peter Jones Courtesy photo

GRAND RAPIDS — Two Van Andel Research Institute scientists received grants totaling $5.5 million that will pay for clinical trials involving new cancer drugs.

The institute received two of the 10 grants totaling nearly $25.5 million awarded this month to research “dream teams” by Stand Up to Cancer, an organization that raises money to accelerate research for new cancer therapies.

The funding will pay for clinical trials for new epigenetic drugs for bladder cancer and advanced non-small cell lung cancer. The trials will test how well tumors respond to immunotherapy.

“Immunotherapies have revolutionized cancer treatment by marshaling the body’s natural defenses to seek and destroy tumors, but tragically many patients eventually succumb to the disease as their cancer hijacks critical epigenetic signals and makes itself invisible to the immune system,” said Peter Jones, VARI’s chief scientific officer and co-principal investigator of the bladder cancer trial. “We have great hope that this approach will help the body’s natural immune response recognize and destroy cancer cells.”

Jones received nearly $3 million over three years from Stand Up to Cancer for the bladder cancer trial, which will test whether epigenetic drugs reverse resistance to immunotherapy. His grant was funded by San Francisco-based biotech company Genentech.

Stephen Baylin, co-leader of the other Epigenetics Dream Team who co-leads the lung cancer trial, received $2.5 million over three years. His trial will look at whether epigenetic drugs are able to improve patient response to immunotherapies.

The grant is funded by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

Baylin also serves as co-director of the Cancer Biology Division and associate director for research programs for Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University. The lung cancer trial is now enrolling patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.


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